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2013 Ashes

Ashes Rewind: 1902

Ashes Rewind: 1902

We look back to one of the most thrilling Tests to have been played on the ground in the company of one of the greatest of cricket writers, Sir Neville Cardus.

The Cardus Archive at Emirates Old Trafford now has over 300 of Neville Cardus's original letters, as well as many replies from his various correspondents. It also includes an extensive collection of Cardus photographs, cuttings scrapbooks, unpublished manuscripts, articles, and Cardus drawings.

Appropriately this account of the match is from his’ book ‘Seasons In The Sun’.

FOURTH TEST, 24-26 July 1902

Australia 299 (Trumper 104, Hill 65, Lockwood 6-48, Rhodes 4-104) & 86 (Darling 37, Lockwood 5-28, Rhodes 3-26)
England 262 (Jackson 128, Braund 65) & 120 (MacLaren 35, Trumble 6-53, Saunders 4-52)
Australia won by 3 runs [Scorecard]

ONE of the most thrilling finishes of all the Test matches ever fought at Old Trafford happened on the Saturday afternoon of July 26th, 1902.

It was the decisive game of the rubber, and Australia won it by three runs, snatching the spoils from the lion's mouth. The match at the end
seemed to get right out of control of the men that were making it; it seemed to take on a being of its own, a volition of its own, and the mightiest cricketers in the land looked as though they were in the grip of a power of which they could feel the presence but whose ends they could not understand.

As events rushed them to crisis even MacLaren, Ranjitsinhji, Trumper, Noble, and Darling - most regal of cricketers - could only utter: "Here we do but as we may; no further dare." The game, in Kipling's term, was more than the player of the game.

The match was designed, surely, by the gods for their sport. Even the victors were abominably scourged. On the second day, when the issue was anybody's, Darling played an innings which, as things turned out, must be said to have won Australia's laurels as much as anything else.

Australia in their second innings had lost 3 wickets - those of Trumper, Duff, and Hill - for 10 runs and now possessed an advantage worth no more than 47. Under a sky of rags, the fitful and sinister sunlight coming through, Darling let all his superb might go at the English attack. His
hitting had not the joyfulness of mastership in it; its note was desperation.

It was in this innings of Darling's that the gods played their first  cruel, trick. For with Darling's score only 17 he was impelled to sky a ball to the deep field - a high but easy catch. And who was the wight that the ironic powers had decreed should shoulder the responsibility of taking that crucial catch? His name was Tate - Tate of Sussex, a kindly fellow who never did harm to a soul.

The humour of the gods really began when this cricketer was asked toplay for England instead of George Hirst. Tate was a capital bowler, but as soon as he was seen in the company of the great the question went out: "What is he doing in this galley?" Tate had not the stern fibre of character that can survive in an air of high tragedy; his bent was for pastoral comedy down at Horsham. Tate missed the catch, and never looked like holding it.

Darling survived to make 37 out of a total of 86. Had Tate held the catch Australia could hardly have got a score of more than 50, for Lockwood and Rhodes, that Friday afternoon, bowled magnificently. Yet when Tate laid himself down to rest in the evening, can he not be imagined as saying to himself: "Well, it's nearly all over now, and as far as Tate of Sussex is concerned, the worst must have happened. I never asked to play for England - they thrust greatness on me - and I'll be well out of it this time tomorrow, back to Brighton, and who'll remember my missed catch after a week? What's a muff in the field in a cricketer's career - everybody makes them."

If Tate did console his spirit in this way the poor man did not know he was born. The gods had not finished with him; the next day he was to be put on the rack and have coals of fire heaped on his head.

On the Saturday England were left with 124 to get for victory. A tiny score - with the cream of batsmanship at hand. But there had been five hours of rain in the night, and Trumble and Saunders were bowling for Australia. Still, England seemed nicely placed at lunch; the total 36 for none and MacLaren and Palairet undefeated.

After lunch the sun got to work on the wicket, and straightaway Palairet was bowled by an intolerable break from Saunders. Tyldesley came in, and, with MacLaren, the game was forced. The play of these two batsmen gave the crowd the first hint that all was not yet settled in England's favour, for it was the play of cricketers driven to desperate remedies. The runs, they seemed to say, can only be got if we hurry; there's the sun as well as Trumble and Saunders to frustrate.

Tyldesley jumped to the bowling; he hit 16 runs in quick time before he was caught in the slips. England 68 for 2 - 56 wanted now. And, said the crowd, not yet sniffing the evil in the wind, only 56, with Ranji, Abel, Jackson, Braund, and Lilley to come, to say nothing of Rhodes and Lockwood. Why, the game is England's!

Four runs after Tyldesley's downfall MacLaren was caught by Duff in the long field. An indiscreet stroke, yet whose was the right to blame the man for making it? It had come off time after time during his priceless innings of 35, and England could not afford to throw a single possible run away.

Abel and Ranji were in when at last the multitude unmistakably saw the evil day face to face. For what sort of a Ranji was this? Palsy was on him. You could have sworn that he shook at the knees. It looked like Ranji; his shirt rippled in the wind even as it did on that day at Old Trafford six years earlier than this, the day on which he conjured 154 runs out of the Australians. Yes, it looked like Ranji - the same slight body, the same inscrutable, bland face. Alas! the spirit had gone - here was a deserted shrine.

Thousands of eyes turned away from Ranji and looked to Abel for succour. Ah, this is better - the pertness of little Abel lightened the soul. He made gallant runs - a boundary over Hill's head. "Cheeky" work this - batsmanship with gaminerie. "Bravo, Bobby!" shouted the Old Trafford crowd.

At 92 Ranji was out, leg-before-wicket to Trumble. Well, the sophist crowd told itself, that was bound to happen; he never looked good for any at all. But 5 runs more and Trumble bowled Abel. England 97 for 5 - 27 needed. "It's quite all right," said a parson on the half-crown stand; "there's really no cause for anxiety. To doubt the ability of Jackson, Braund, Lilley, Lockwood, and Rhodes to get a paltry 27 runs would be scandalous. Besides, I do believe that fellow Tate is a batsman - he has an average of 16 for Sussex."

The century went up with cheers to herald it - the crowd made as much of joyful noise as it could, presumably in the hope that cheering would put a better face on the scoring-board. Jackson, who made a century in the first innings, scored seven in his best "Parliamentary" manner - neat, politic runs. Then he was caught by Gregory, and now the cat was indeed out of the bag; sophistry passed away from the heaped-up ranks. "Who'd 'a' thowt it?" said a man on the sixpenny side. Who, indeed?

At that very moment of agony at Old Trafford, people far away in the city read in the latest editions, 'England 92 for 3," and agreed that it wasn't worth the journey to Old Trafford, that it had been a good match, that Australians were fine sportsmen, and jolly good losers.

Sixteen runs - four good boundaries or four bad ones - would bring the game into England's keeping when Lilley reached the wicket. He was frankly and unashamedly in some slight panic. He hit out impetuously, as who should say: "For the Lord's sake let it be settled and done with quickly."

Braund was overthrown at 109, and Lockwood made not a run. Lilley lashed his bat about like a man distraught. Rhodes is his companion now, and stands on guard ever so cool. Eight runs will do it, and "There goes four of them!" affirms the red-hot crowd as Lilley accomplishes a grand drive into the deep. "Well hit, sir!" shouts our parson. "Nothing like taking your courage in both hands against these Australian fellows. Well hit, sir!" Clem Hill is seen running along the boundary's edge as though the fiend were after him. Trying to save the four, is he? - even from as certain a boundary hit as this! Extraordinary men, Australians; never give anything away. Hill, in fact, saved the boundary in the most decisive manner in the world by holding the ball one-handed before it pitched. The impetus of his run carried him twenty yards beyond the place where he made the catch - a catch which put incredulity into the face of every man and woman at Old Trafford that day. "A sinful catch," said the parson.

Tate, the last man in, watched Rhodes ward off three balls from Trumble, and then rain stopped play. Yes, rain stopped play for forty minutes - and England eight runs short of triumph with the last men in. But though it was heavy rain there was always a bright sky not far away - another piece of subtle torture by the gods, for nobody could think that the weather was going to put an end to the afternoon. It would clear up all right in time; the agony had to be gone through.

The crowd sat around the empty field, waiting, but hardly daring to hope. The tension was severe. In the pavilion Tate was dying a thousand deaths. All depended on him - Rhodes was safe enough. At six minutes to five the Australians went into action again. Saunders bowled at Tate - a fast one. Tate saw something hit the ground and he made a reflex action at it. Click! Tate looked wildly around him. What had happened? A noise came to him over the wet grass, sounding like a distant sea. The crowd was cheering; he had snicked a boundary. Another snick like that and the game is England's and Tate safe for posterity!

The ball was returned from the ring, and Darling slightly but impressively rearranged his field, the while Saunders bent down to a sawdust heap. Bloodless, calculating Australians they were. Tate got himself down on his bat once more, and the wheel in his poor head went round faster and faster. .. . Bat straight. . . don't move. . . can't hit wicket. . . block-hole. . . don't move. . . Bat straight. . .can't hit wicket. . ." And the gods fooled him to the top of his bent - to the last. Saunders's fourth ball was not only good enough for Tate's frail bat; it was good enough for the best bat in England. It was fast through the air and - it was a shooter. It broke Tate's wicket, and, no doubt, broke Tate's heart and the heart of the crowd.

In twenty minutes Old Trafford was deserted save for one or two groundsmen who tended to the battlefield. The figures on the score-board had revolved, obliterating all records of the match from the face of it, which now looked vacantly over the grass. The gods had finished their sport - finished even with Tate. Yet not quite. A week later, on the Saturday afternoon following this, Tate met the Australians again in his beloved Sussex, and he was graciously permitted to play an innings of 22 not out against them - and a capital innings at that.

Photo: Abel and Palairet stride out from the Pavilion to open the innings for England


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